Often, when friends or family members, encounter problems or illness, we may sympathize or empathize with them by commenting that we know how they feel. Today, I learned of someone with a disease so rare that it is quite possible no one reading this could empathize by saying, “I know how you feel.”
The disease? Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva or FOP.
You’ve never heard of it? Neither had I until today. According to the website for the International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressive Association, the disease is “one of the rarest, most disabling genetic conditions known to medicine.” A news story about a woman afflicted by the disease reports that it is believed only about 700 cases are known to exist at present.
FOP, sometimes referred to as Stone Man Syndrome, is a disease of the body’s connective tissue in which a mutation of the body’s repair mechanism causes fibrous tissue, including muscle, tendon and ligament, to be ossified spontaneously or when damaged. Often, this causes joints to become permanently frozen in place. The tissues become bone that forms extra-skeletal bone, effectively becoming an exterior skeleton encasing the body’s bone skeleton. The disease has no known cure.
In the news story about a woman with FOP, the woman afflicted said, “I describe it today like saying I’m turning into a human statue.” She said that any bruise she gets causes her body tissues to turn to bone. A car crash left one leg in a locked position. Her left arm is fused to her side, and her neck and back are stiff. “Eventually,” she said, “I will be immobile from head to toe.”
In reading about this, I began to wonder if some of us, myself included, could be suffering a form of FOP in our spiritual lives.
Are the tendons and ligaments on our faith skeleton continuing to be flexible and strong; or, are they, like someone afflicted with FOP, turning to bone with each little bruise we receive? Are our feelings easily wounded and we find forgiveness difficult for even the smallest of slights we experience? Does each little bruise result in muscle turning to bone?
Just as FOP can cause ligaments and muscles to turn to bone, spiritual FOP could find us allowing our spiritual muscles to become ossified, thus immobilizing our faith.
While FOP is incurable and eventually will immobilize its victim, that is not true of spiritual FOP. FOP in our spiritual life is curable. It will lead to immobilization only if we choose to allow it to do so.